Yesterday Travis and I decided to walk to a Bento/Sushi restaurant in downtown Portland for lunch. We'd heard the food was excellent and inexpensive. The restaurant was about 10 blocks downtown from our office, and turned out to be every bit as good (and inexpensive) as people said.

After our delicious meal, we began our journey back. It was a cold, blustery, drizzly day, but even so, we were enjoying just being out of the office. We were crossing a busy street at an intersection with a light (which was telling us we were welcome to cross) when suddenly a very largeish woman in a Dodge Neon rental car blatantly sped through the red light, nearly hitting both of us and never even glancing in our direction.

She pulled into the parking lot of the rental car company on that block, and I lost no time in approaching her.

"Excuse me," I said. She did not respond. Her back was to me as she tried her best to squeeze her bloated body out of the car. I'm really not exaggerating this. She was having quite a bit of trouble getting out.

"Excuse me, ma'am," I said again. She continued to ignore me. I repeated, loudly, several variations of "Excuse me, ma'am" at least six times as I followed her -- at a distance of no more than three feet -- into the rental office.

Finally, she had to turn around and face me in order to sit down in the waiting room of the office. I said "Excuse me" again, and at first her eyes darted away from me but then, as if having second thoughts, she decided to acknowledge me.

"What?" she replied, finally.

"I was wondering if you realize that you ran a red light back there. You nearly hit me and my friend."

"Well, what do you want me to do about it?"

At this, I was stunned for a moment. It took me a few seconds to come up with a response that didn't contain vulgarity.

"You could try to be more careful in the future. You could have killed us," I said finally.

"Why don't you go get a damn job and stop harassing people," she spat back.

Again, I was stunned. All I had wanted from this woman was a simple apology, an acknowledgment that she hadn't seen the light and would be more careful in the future. Was that too much to ask after she had nearly run me over? Apparently so.

As I was standing there with my mouth agape (I'm not used to such blatant rudeness), Travis finally caught up with me (at first he had waited back at the intersection, but then decided to follow me). He had apparently just caught the woman's last reply, and I was relieved when he said, quite loudly, exactly what I would have liked to say if I hadn't still been trying to collect my thoughts. This is what he said:


He then slammed the rental office door and we walked away.

I don't live downtown, so I very rarely encounter this level of rudeness. In fact, I don't think I've ever encountered this level of rudeness from an adult before. The big question in my mind is how best to respond to it.

Travis, having lived downtown all his life, had immediately insulted the woman. I can't say I think it was a bad decision, really. But what is more effective in getting through to someone like this woman? Will insulting her merely meet with her expectations of us (she had clearly insulted me by implying that I looked like a bum)? Would it be better to continue being nice and polite in hopes that she'll later realize what a horrible person she is and, hopefully, change herself for the better?

Your average religious person would quote the Bible, which says that returning a person's rudeness with kindness is like heaping hot coals on their head. But how much truth is there in this? I strongly believe that some people really are too self-centered to care.

Maybe I'll figure it out eventually.